The Massachusetts baseball team wrapped up a five-game road trip by dropping two games of a three-game series at Rhode Island this past weekend.
Though the Minutemen (4-17, 1-5 Atlantic 10) got a pair of standout performances from starting pitchers Andrew Grant and Jordan Pace, their struggles at the plate continued against the Rams (14-16, 3-3 A-10), as UMass hitters managed only five runs over the three-game set.
The series loss dropped the team to 1-5 in the A-10 – last in the conference.
On Sunday, the Minutemen were again stymied by opposing pitchers, falling 3-1 behind a strong effort from Pace.
UMass jumped out to a 1-0 lead with its only run of the game in the top of the second inning. First baseman Nik Campero led off with a double before advancing to third and scoring on a sacrifice fly from center fielder Jeff Cavanaro.
Rhode Island pitchers Bobby Dean and Steve Moyers combined to hold the Minutemen to only five hits the rest of the game, while striking out eight and walking none.
“It’s disappointing today because (Saturday) we executed so well offensively,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “Today we had opportunities and we just didn’t execute … and in a tight ball game, you never know how those things are gonna turn out.”
Opposite of the Rams’ pitchers, Pace put together his own solid outing. Over eight innings, Pace limited opposing batters to three earned runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out four and hitting another four.
Stone was disappointed that the team couldn’t pull out a win given such a strong backing from his starter.
“I just felt we didn’t give ourselves a chance to score more runs, especially late in the game, because of our lack of execution,” he said. “And it was unfortunate, because Jordan pitched well. I mean, he certainly pitched well enough to win.”
The Rams pushed across two runs with an RBI ground out and a run-scoring double in the bottom of the third to take the lead for good. An RBI double off the bat of shortstop Tim Caputo in the seventh extended the Rhode Island lead to 3-1.
The finale loss was UMass’ fifth in its last six games.
Grant hurls gem
On Saturday, Grant made the Minutemen’s inability to consistently score runs a non-issue, tossing a complete game – the team’s first since 2009 – in the team’s 2-0 victory.
Grant, who has not allowed a run in any of his past 17 innings pitched, limited the Rams to just four hits, while walking three and striking out four.
“He was nice and loose (Saturday),” Stone said. “He had great arm action, he was getting ahead (in the count) and throwing strikes. He just really kind of dominated, overpowered a lot of hitters. It was one of the best performances we’ve had in a long time.”
Grant, who, for the second consecutive year, has weathered a rocky start to the season to develop into one of the team’s go-to pitchers, said establishing his fastball early and pitching with a lead helped contribute to his dominance.
“After my last start, I just wanted to keep momentum going,” Grant said in an interview with UMassAthletics.com. “I had a pretty good start against NJIT, but I just wanted to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.”
UMass scored the only runs it would need in the top of the fifth, coming on an RBI single from shortstop Vinny Scifo and a double steal of home and second executed by Scifo and third baseman Paul Yanakopulos.
Stone was pleased with the offensive execution from his club.
“Great hit-and-run from first to third and the double steal to give us the two runs to support Andrew Grant’s effort on the mound, which was tremendous,” he said.
Minutemen drop opener
The Minutemen’s starting pitching was not nearly as solid in the series opener, as D.J. Jauss, who came into the game having only allowed three earned runs over his previous three starts, got tagged for five runs over three innings in UMass’ 9-2 loss on Friday.
Though he let up only two hits, Jauss struggled with his command, issuing eight walks and hitting another batter. Opposing pitcher Mike Bradstreet went nine innings for Rhode Island, earning the complete-game win while striking out five and allowing eight hits.
The Minutemen opened up the scoring with an early run in the top of the first as designated hitter Rob McLam lined a two-out double to drive in Campero.
McLam (4-for-4) and Campero (2-for-3) combined for six of UMass’ eight hits on the game.
“Fortunately they were able to provide some pop and get on (base) and make things happen,” Stone said of his 3-4 hitters. “It’s great when a guy gets four hits in a ball game and he’s hitting in front of a guy that’s our No. 4 hitter. It gives us opportunities.”
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Rams threw up a crooked number in the second, scoring four runs on a grand slam off the bat of catcher Pat Quinn.
Campero lifted a sacrifice fly to score second baseman Nick Sanford in the fifth, but four more Rhode Island runs put the game far out of reach.
Looking to regain some of their momentum, the Minutemen return to Amherst to play their next six games at home, starting with a stand-alone matchup with Boston College on Wednesday for a berth in the Beanpot Championship game on April 29 at Fenway Park.
First pitch against the Eagles is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Earl Lorden Field.
Daniel Malone can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.